How a Personal Experience Made its Way into the Packaging Design for this Hot Sauce

While every project may feel personal on some level, there are certain designs you’ll create that are extra special. Such is the case with Queens Hot Sauce, designed by John Godfrey at the NYC agency Chargefield. We spoke with him to learn more about the intricacies of this project, how they avoided design cliches, creating the unique icons on the label, and more.

Walk us through the design process that you went through for this project.

John Godfrey: Queens Hot Sauce was a new hot sauce company unabashedly proud to be from Queens, New York, so much so that they named themselves after the borough. QHS was totally open to ideas for their packaging, but requested one thing: to represent 3 specific Queens landmarks (Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, LaGuardia Airport and Citi Field).

The request was specific enough to form a direction but loose enough to get creative with it. We came up with ways to visually portray the landmarks, while designing the typographic layout of the name, thinking of an effective way to combine or interlock them for maximum impact.

What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with Queens Hot Sauce packaging and how did you accomplish it?

John Godfrey: There’s so many hot sauces on the market, so we really wanted to make sure we injected a lot of character into the bottle to make it stand out on the shelves. Revolving around Queens imagery was already a big differentiator, but we specifically used colors, illustration style and typography that we didn't see a lot of in the competition when combined in the manner that we created. We also made the decision to not go with any pepper/heat imagery on the front of the label, but instead convey those aspects with the color of the typography and design elements which match the sauce as another way to stand out.

Tell us a bit more about developing the graphic elements and the locations you highlighted on the packaging.

John Godfrey: We had a list of landmarks that QHS wanted to see on the packaging: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport. We had to decide whether we were going to take a literal approach of rendering all of the actual landmarks, or somehow have them represented in another way while staying true to the concept. Rendering all the landmarks would of decreased the visual impact of each of them due to how sprawling each of the landmarks are, the size constraints of the bottle’s label, and having to share the space with typography.

We brainstormed by distilling the landmarks into simplistic icons, and after viewing them all together, we noticed a visual theme that could link all the landmark references together: “Planet Queens” due to the spherical (not to mention planetary) natures of the Unisphere from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and a baseball from Citi Field, and the transportive nature of an airplane from LaGuardia. Queens and New York are known as vibrant melting pots of cultures: in Queens, no racial or ethnic group holds a 50% majority, and 48% of residents are foreign-born. So the transportation theme of people from all over the world flying into and living in Queens, and Queens almost representing everyone as a little planet Earth felt appropriate. Food brings people together, and many urbanites will tell you that being able to sample cuisines from around the world in their neighbourhood is a perk of city living—this sauce represents that.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

John Godfrey: Definitely trying to fit a lot of character onto such a small bottle. The label was only 2.25” tall and we wanted to make the most of it. We went with big typography on the front in a mixture of sizes that made the word Queens seem huge even though it was just the Q and U that were large. This off-kilter type arrangement graphically gives the impression of city blocks and neighborhood boundaries. The landmarks were interlocked with the typographic "city blocks" and the result was everything fitting and working together in a unique way. Any spare room on the bottle got filled with more Queens-centric graphics like the hot pepper borough map and subway car to give the bottle as much character as we could, and hopefully give the customer something to smile about.

If you could pick one aspect of the finished design that you like the most or feel especially proud of, what would it be and why?

John Godfrey: Heat meters are a popular part of hot sauce packaging, and while one wasn’t specifically requested by the client for this package, they did want to demonstrate that the heat level was 7/10. Having personally spent time in Queens, and taking the 7 Flushing train in and out of Queens to Manhattan, I instantly recognized a graphical opportunity, and knew that I wanted to represent the heat level of 7 as a MTA 7 train’s purple route number bullet, paired with a subway train as a heat meter. I enjoyed that aspect of the design, as it came out of a personal experience with Queens which allowed me to develop a reference that may not have happened had I not had that connection.

Share one lesson that you learned while developing the finished product.

John Godfrey: That new meaning can be brought to a design by breaking down loosely related elements and creating a narrative that binds them even stronger when reassembled